A leading advocate for a strong U.S. military expects morale and readiness to improve now that the Defense Department has unveiled a new policy restricting military service by transgender soldiers.
The Associated Press reported Tuesday the new policy will take effect April 12. It requires military personnel to serve in the gender of their birth, and they will not be allowed to serve while transitioning to another sex.
A 5-4 Supreme Court ruling in January freed the Trump administration to implement restrictions on prospective service members experiencing “gender dysphoria.”
Last week, a federal judge in Maryland decided to allow the Trump administration to move forward on the new policy, which reverses the Obama-era rule allowing transgender men and women to enlist and serve.
Elaine Donnelly, founder and president of the Center for Military Readiness, a nonpartisan think-tank that defends the morale and readiness of the U.S. Armed Services, tells questsin the new policies will lead to a stronger military.
“The Obama administration treated it primarily as a civil rights issue,” says Donnelly. “They mandated that everyone in the military endorse the idea that a person of transgender can transform themselves from one gender to the other. There was no room for dissent allowed.”
According to her data, 994 active duty service members were diagnosed with gender dysphoria during the Obama years.
“This small number of people, 994, less than a thousand, accounted for 30,000 mental health visits. And the medical costs for those service members increased nearly three times,’’ Donnelly tells questsin.
Donnelly hasn’t been the only one to criticize the decline of military readiness during the Obama years. The Heritage Foundation’s annual review of America’s armed forces has documented the decline, as well as the modest improvements in readiness that have occurred so far under the new administration.
The Foundation’s 2019 Index of U.S. Military Strength states: “Presidential budgets during the sequestration years of the Obama administration always proved aspirational, and … capability, capacity, and readiness failed to keep pace with the demands placed on the service. When the funding did arrive, it was through continuing resolutions well into the years of execution, which prevented any real form of strategic planning.”
The battle over transgender individuals serving in the military is far from over. Four lawsuits are pending that could eventually work their way back to the Supreme Court. The ACLU is challenging the new rules, as are House Democrats.
Rep. Joe Kennedy, D-Mass., introduced a resolution in the House last month challenging the Trump administration’s policy. It reportedly has over 100 cosponsors.
A 2016 study by Rand Corporation indicated that letting transgender people serve would have a minimal effect on medical costs and readiness. But Donnelly emphasizes “mission readiness and lethality" -- that is, defending the United States of America.
“You have to be ready to fight, worldwide on short notice,” she says. “That’s what the military is charged to do. It is not an equal opportunity employer. It’s different. It does have certain eligibility requirements.”
She tells questsin the administration is treating the transgender question as a medical issue -- gender dysphoria -- and she supports that approach.
Under Obama, she says, soldiers considering a gender transition could take up to a year off to receive the needed counseling before making their decision. Surgery or hormone treatments were often prescribed as well, she says.
“In fact the Department of Defense reported the cost involved with travel for special treatment was starting to cut into the budget for maintenance and other things," says Donnelly, "and there was also some reason to believe that when personnel are not deployable, either before or after their treatments, it affects everyone else.
The bottom line, she says: “Everything involved with having to buy into the transgender reality was problematic and the administration was correct to change it."